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Public intoxication, also known as "drunk and disorderly" and "drunk in public", is a summary offense in some countries rated to public cases or displays of drunkenness. Public intoxication laws vary widely by jurisdiction, but usually require an obvious display of intoxicated incompetence or behavior which disrupts public order before the charge is levied.


The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987–1991) found public drunkenness disproportionately affected Aboriginal people.[1] Public drunkenness was decriminalised in New South Wales in 1979,[2] the Northern Territory and in South Australia in 1984.[3] In New South Wales, police have the discretion to issue "on the spot" fines or infringement notices for "drunk in public", a fine that can cost the individual over $480 (4 penalty units).[citation needed] Community Legal Centres across the state complain about these fines and the impact it has had on various vulnerable members of the community, including young people, the homeless and minority groups.[citation needed] For example, a "drunk and disorderly" fine in New South Wales starts at $550.[citation needed] As of February 2009, local councils in New South Wales are not allowed to charge people who drink in alcohol-free zones; they are only permitted to confiscate the alcohol of the intoxicated person.[citation needed]

By legislative changes in February 2021, Victoria will finally decriminalise public drunkenness from November 2022, after which drunkenness will be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal one.[1][4] In Victoria, there are currently two drinking offences: "drunk in a public place" and "drunk and disorderly in a public place".[5] These are separate offences contained in the Summary Offences Act 1966 which have their own power of arrest. Changes in 2006 allow police to issue an infringement notice for these offences,[6] in addition to the traditional method of charging and bailing the offender to the Magistrates' Court. The current fine attached to the infringement notice is $590 for a first offence and $1,100 for a subsequent offence.[7] A person arrested for being drunk or drunk and disorderly is held at the Melbourne Custody Centre or the cells at a police station or placed in the care of a friend or relative.

Queensland will be the only state in Australia that will have a specific offence of public drunkenness.


In Canada, liquor is regulated by the provinces rather than the federal government.

In British Columbia and Ontario, drinking in public and public intoxication are offenses. If an event is to take place in public with alcohol it must have a permit. In Ontario, having an open container in public garners a $125 fine and public drunkenness garners a $65 fine and detainment until sober. While liquor laws are similar in provinces, the laws in territories tend to be substantially different. For instance, in the Northwest Territories public intoxication can result in imprisonment or detention in a medical facility for up to 24 hours (NWT Liquor Act).

New Zealand

In New Zealand, drinking in public is not a crime and instead, local governments must specify that alcohol is banned in an area before it is considered a crime to drink in that location. Being drunk in public is not specifically an offense unless the person who is intoxicated is a public nuisance, in which case they may be dealt with for 'disturbing the peace'. This will usually result in being taken home, or otherwise taken to a police cell until sober.

United Kingdom

Further information: Alcohol licensing laws of the United Kingdom

A photograph of a group of people standing outside at nighttime, two of whom are barechested and one of whom is balancing on a stone
In the United Kingdom, the police normally only enforce the laws against public intoxication if the intoxicated person is unable to act in a reasonable manner, as demonstrated by such activities as climbing on Stonehenge (pictured).

In the United Kingdom, there are a number of offences dealing with intoxication, which vary between the constituent countries.

In a public place, it is an offence to be:

It is also an offence to be drunk:

The police will only get involved if the person is so drunk they are unable to act in a reasonable manner, such as passing out on the street. In that case, typically the police will, depending on the circumstances, help the intoxicated person on their way or place the person in a police station cell until sober. Once fit to be dealt with the detained person will normally either be cautioned, be issued with a penalty notice for disorder (PND – £90 fine in ticket form), or bailed to appear at the local court. The court in turn may issue a fine (up to level 1 or level 3 on the standard scale depending on the offence charged).

There are also many more specific offences, including driving a motor vehicle while unfit through drink (or being found 'drunk in charge'),[15] driving a motor vehicle while over the prescribed limit,[16] and riding a cycle while unfit through drink.[17] Furthermore, the police have the power (although not the obligation) to confiscate any alcohol which is being consumed in public by those under 18, and local authorities have the power to prohibit alcohol consumption in certain areas.[18]

United States

1968 constitutional challenge

In 1968, in the case of Powell v. Texas, the Texas law against public intoxication was challenged in the Supreme Court of the United States for alleged violation of Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. The court upheld the law, ruling that criminalizing public intoxication was neither cruel nor unusual.

State public intoxication laws today

See also: Alcohol laws of the United States

In summary, misconducting in public while drunk could be fined in California, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Texas and Virginia.

See also


  1. ^ a b 'Long overdue': public drunkenness to be decriminalised in Victoria
  2. ^ Public intoxication in NSW: the contours of criminalisation
  3. ^ Public Intoxication Act 1984
  4. ^ Victorian Parliament passes bill to decriminalise public drunkenness
  5. ^ "Summary Offences Act 1966". Australian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  6. ^ "Infringements (General Regulations ) 2006 - Schedule 3 Section 10AA". Australian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  7. ^ "Tough new laws to tackle drunken louts". Premier of Victoria. Archived from the original on 23 March 2012. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  8. ^ "Licensing Act 1872: Section 12",, The National Archives, 1872 c. 94 (s. 12)
  9. ^ "Criminal Justice Act 1967: Section 91",, The National Archives, 1967 c. 80 (s. 91)
  10. ^ "Air Navigation Order 2016: Section 242",, The National Archives, SI 2009/765 (s. 242)
  11. ^ "Licensing Act 1902: Section 2",, The National Archives, 1902 c. 28 (s. 2)
  12. ^ "Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985: Section 1",, The National Archives, 1985 c. 57 (s. 1)
  13. ^ "Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985: Section 1A",, The National Archives, 1985 c. 57 (s. 1A)
  14. ^ "Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985: Section 2",, The National Archives, 1985 c. 57 (s. 2)
  15. ^ "Road Traffic Act 1988: Section 4",, The National Archives, 1988 c. 52 (s. 4)
  16. ^ "Road Traffic Act 1988: Section 5",, The National Archives, 1988 c. 52 (s. 5)
  17. ^ "Road Traffic Act 1988: Section 30",, The National Archives, 1988 c. 52 (s. 30)
  18. ^ "Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001",, The National Archives, 2001 c. 16 (ss. 12–16)
  19. ^ "CAL. PEN. CODE § 639 : California Code - Section 639". Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  20. ^ "Colorado Public Intoxication Laws". Retrieved 2014-10-21.
  21. ^ "LexisNexis Custom Solution: Georgia Code Research Tool". Archived from the original on 2009-05-02. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  22. ^ "Indiana Code 35-50-3". Retrieved 2014-01-26.
  23. ^ "340A.902 - 2015 Minnesota Statutes". Retrieved 2016-05-05.
  24. ^ "Code of Ordinances | St. Cloud, MN - Official Website". Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  25. ^ "Section: 067.0305 Counties or cities not to arrest or punish for public intoxication. RSMO 67.305". Retrieved 2016-05-05.[permanent dead link]
  26. ^ "Article 53-24-107 of the Montana Code". Archived from the original on 2013-06-29. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  27. ^ Texas Penal Code Section 49.02.
  28. ^ Texas Penal Code Section 12.23.
  29. ^ Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Section 106.071.
  30. ^ "Texas Public Intoxication Laws Allow for Arrest Without Intoxication. Or Even Drinking. - Hit & Run". Reason. 2010-02-26. Retrieved 2014-01-26.